The CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) quarterfinals are done and dusted with four teams -- Montreal Impact, Alajuelense, Club America and Herediano -- advancing to the semifinals. Here are five observations from the week that was in the CCL.
1. Montreal extinguish ghosts of Torreon
Way back in 2009 after beating Santos Laguna 2-0 in the first leg of their CCL quarterfinal, the then-USL Montreal Impact were poised to advance to the CCL semifinals; they were losing by just a single goal, 3-2, in the second leg against the Mexican side heading into stoppage time in Torreon. Then, disaster struck for the Canadians. Two goals in stoppage time, including one in the dying moments, ruined Montreal's Cinderella run.
Fast-forward six years later to last Tuesday night. Montreal are facing another Mexican team, this time Pachuca in a second-leg quarterfinal, and are in need of a goal to progress. In the final seconds, Calum Mallace hoofs a ball 60 yards forward and Cameron Porter, in one of his first touches as a professional, does the amazing.
By now, Porter's story has been told, one of a kid who only recently was studying for final exams at Princeton. Now the Ohio native has the distinction of scoring one of the most memorable goals in tournament history and certainly one of the most important goals for an MLS side in CCL history. Better yet for the Impact, the ghosts of that torturous three-minute span in Torreon six years ago can finally be put to bed.
2. Matosas' "Ferrari" running just fine
Club America was already a high-performing machine prior to 2015, but with the winter additions of Darwin Quintero, Dario Benedetto and Cristian Pellerano, Las Aguilas became a "Ferrari," according to defender Paolo Goltz. While head coach Gustavo Matosas may have had to go under the hood of his prized baby following their 1-0 Liga MX loss to Leones Negros last weekend, on the CCL front the Ferrari looked to be in perfectly good working condition in Wednesday's second-leg semifinal versus Saprissa.
With semifinal qualification all but assured after the 3-0 win away in the first leg, the 2-0 win for America in the return leg gave Matosas a chance to rotate and rest some of his key parts. Saprissa, who posed a threat for a good chunk of the match in the first leg, barely even troubled America goalkeeper Moises Munoz. Taking down the five-time CONCACAF champions will require a Herculean effort. Your turn, Herediano.
3. Alajuelense undeterred in D.C.
It was cold and rainy and overall pretty miserable at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night, but not even Mother Nature spitting out her worst would have stopped Alajuelense from reaching the CCL semifinals against DC United following the Ticos' 5-2 first-leg win. While the MLS side still emerged victorious 2-1 in the return leg, Alajuelense played an intelligent match and were worthy of their passage.
Frankly, the tie was sealed back in Costa Rica when Jonathan McDonald scored late to give Alajuelense their fifth goal. Overcoming a 4-2 -- we just need a goal in each half! -- seems so much more plausible than a 5-2 deficit, and DC United's desperation played right into Alajuelense's hands in the second half, enabling the Costa Ricans to equalize in the match and effectively end the tie. There's no reason to think that Oscar Ramirez's team won't make it to the final, considering that they will host Montreal in the return leg of their semifinal.
4. Herediano-Olimpia: The essence of CONCACAF
After a testy 1-1 draw in the first leg, the stage was set for another feisty encounter between Herediano and Olimpia in Thursday's second leg, and that's exactly what we got. There were hard fouls, disputed calls, pushing and shoving between the players, a missed penalty from Olimpia's Anthony Lozano that led toHerediano defender Keynor Brown getting in Lozano's face about the miss.
There were words exchanged between the two coaches at halftime, an Olimpia player, Arnold Peralta, getting a yellow card for taunting Herediano fans on a throw-in, and above all a passionate game of football in front of a sold-out crowd between two teams giving it their all. To Central American clubs like Herediano and Olimpia, as evidenced by Thursday night's encounter, the CCL means a great deal, and the euphoria and devastation that accompanied these two teams made for riveting entertainment.
5. This is not your older brother's CCL
Unlike in recent years, this year's semifinalists will see just one team from Liga MX, while two Costa Rican sides and one MLS team compose the rest of the final four. The Alajuelense-Montreal semifinal ensures that it will not be an all-Liga MX final, and furthermore it's interesting that of the four matches to be played in the CCL semifinals, three will be played on turf. Both Costa Rican teams play on turf in front of their home fans, while Montreal are slotted to play their semifinal home leg in their "winter home" of Olympic Stadium.
Will this hamper Club America? Probably not. Las Aguilas showed in their first-leg quarterfinal at Saprissa that they can score plenty of goals on the hard stuff. The reigning Liga MX champions are still poised as the tournament favorites, but in what has been a competition that has already delivered a few surprises, a shock or two in the next few weeks is certainly a possibility.